Is Opinion Page too opinionated?

Dennis DalmanColumn, Sartell – St. Stephen, St. JosephLeave a Comment

It’s always perplexing and a bit amusing when some readers call the Newsleader Opinion Page “too opinionated.”

After all, it’s not called the Opinion Page for nothing.

Some other readers like to criticize Opinion Page writers for being “too one-sided” or “too partisan” or “too negative” or “unfair and irresponsible.”

When letter-to-editor writers or angry callers use those terms, they are upset because they disagree with an opinion expressed on the Opinion Page. Ironically, they themselves are very “one-sided” in their accusations, and they are often sourly negative, which is fine. Opinions can be that way. An opinion, by its very nature, is “one-sided” to some degree. But this tug-of-war can get to be a bit like the pot calling the kettle black – one-siders attacking other one-siders for being too one-sided.

Newspapers, of course, have a “News” section and an “Opinion Page.” The stories in the “News” section are either “hard news” or “feature stories.” An example of hard news is a story about a city-council decision – let’s say, a decision to impose a watering ban. The reporter would write down a factual story on the decision, paraphrasing or quoting in a fair, balanced way.

The news story would read something like this:

The Spring Valley City Council’s 3-2 decision to impose a watering ban caused disagreements among the council and audience members at the April 11 council meeting.

“This decision is necessary because of this awful drought,” said council member Joe Smith.

“It’s not necessary,” said council member Jill Johnson. “I can go along with a staggered watering day, but not a total ban.”

Audience members also voiced their concerns.

“There’s no reason everybody has to have such green lawns,” said Jerry Jeepers.

“That’s easy for you to say,” countered Rita Rooter. “We just planted grass seed.”

The following are two examples of an editorial or column on the same subject – a reaction against the watering ban and one in favor of it – as published on an Opinion Page:

The city council, in imposing a watering ban, used an elephant gun when a fly swatter would have sufficed.

If this drought persists through the next month, a near-total ban might be necessary. But for now, the staggered-day water-use method is working fine, despite a few violations.

It’s about time the city council passed a watering ban. This drought has lasted nearly a month, putting huge pressure on our water supply. Too many residents are over-watering their lawns, leaving sprinklers running all night or filling backyard swimming pools. If people can’t use water wisely, the city has a right and a duty to put a stop to it.

Both of those opinion pieces are “one-sided,” each in its way.

Here is a hypothetical example of an editorial or column that is NOT one-sided:

The watering ban is a good idea, but on the other hand maybe it’s not.

People whose lawns are green shouldn’t be watering them, but who’s to say they shouldn’t be able to water at all?

Most say there’s plenty of water in the ground, although some experts claim it’s not that plentiful.

The staggered watering rule is working. Some are violating it, but they are paying for the water, so do we have the right to fine them? Voluntary is best.

So, in conclusion, there should be a watering ban, but without fines. Those who don’t believe in a ban should be able to stay on the staggered system as long as they don’t overwater.

That kind of opinion is so “objective” and so un-one-sided as to be insipid and meaningless. It is like a math exercise in which 2 minus 2 equals 0.

Three cheers for the tug-of-war Opinion Page. And three cheers for a wide spectrum of one-sided opinions – democracy in print.

Author: Dennis Dalman

news@thenewsleaders.com

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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